RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper released a recommended budget for FY 2021-23 that includes investments in schools, pay increase for teachers, strengthening health care access and infrastructure investments.
Cooper released his recommended budget on March 24, but it is not final as the North Carolina House of Representatives and Senate each have to approve the final budget. A budget is created every two years and after the budget is proposed by the governor, a chamber of the North Carolina Legislature will craft and propose a budget, according to the legislature.
Once the legislature votes on the budget, the governor can decide to sign it, veto it or let it become law without signing it.
“With the right priorities, we will not only beat this pandemic, but build lasting success for North Carolina,” Cooper said. “The most important recommendations today will invest in North Carolina’s people so they can learn, get healthier and get the right kind of training for great jobs.”
Cooper’s proposed budget would provide a 10 percent pay raise for K-12 teachers and move all non-certified school personnel to a $15 an hour wage. Among other education priorities, the proposed budget would invest more than $78 million in early education and child development.
Another $80 million in the proposed budget would be provided to help school districts hire more nurses, counselors, psychologists and social workers to support student physical and mental health. Cooper said it would also invest in efforts to improve recruitment, preparation, support and retention of diverse educators.
“I am grateful for the strong investment in public education reflected in this budget proposal,” said Scott Elliott, Watauga County Schools superintendent. “This past year has illustrated the importance of our public schools to the wellbeing of our communities. Investing in our public schools is an investment in our whole community.”
Elliott said he is also pleased to see the investment programs for disadvantaged students and in workforce development efforts aimed at ensuring students are prepared for the economy of the future.
“I also appreciate the proposed bonuses and pay raises for our state employees and especially for our educators,” Elliott said. “These are the folks who have worked so hard to educate our children and hold our communities together over the last year.”
The North Carolina Association of Educators released a statement after Cooper announced his budget proposal saying the organization shared many of the governor’s funding priorities.
NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly said the organization looks forward to working with the House and Senate in their budget negotiations to ensure public education receives the necessary investments to serve students and communities.
“Governor Cooper recognized that the educators of North Carolina have worked harder and longer to assure students had access to a continuing education during this pandemic, and his proposals for salary increases are affordable, strategic and well-deserved,” Kelly said in a statement. “We hope the General Assembly will show the same appreciation.”
The budget proposal for education also includes:
- Providing teachers, principals and all public school personnel a one-time bonus of $2,000 this year, and additional one-time bonuses of $1,000 in each year of the biennium for a total of $4,000
- Reducing salary plateaus in recognition of the important contributions of veteran teachers
- Restoring Master’s pay, and eliminating the requirement that teachers pay for their own substitutes when they take leave
- Investing $8 million in FY 2021-22 and $13.1 million in FY 2022-23 to increase pay for assistant principals, whose salaries are tied to the teacher salary schedule
- Increasing the principal salary schedule by more than 10 percent by investing $12.5 million in FY 2021-22, and $25.6 million in FY 2022-23 for principals. Additionally, holding principals harmless to reductions in average daily membership and changes in school growth for the biennium.
- Increasing the salaries of all other public school personnel by more than 7.5 percent over the biennium by investing $75.6 million in FY 2021-22 and $115.3 million in FY 2022-23.
- A 7.5 percent raise over two years for University of North Carolina and state-funded local community college employees. All other employees would see a 5 percent raise over two years. The proposal also calls for a $1,000 bonus each of the next two years for all state-funded employees. Another $58.3 million is proposed for salary adjustments.
- Retired state employees would get cost-of-living adjustment raises: a recurring 2 percent and an additional 2 percent raise each of the next two years.
More information on the education section of the budget can be found at files.nc.gov/ncosbm/documents/files/REC2021-23_Supporting_NC_Human_Capital.pdf.
Cooper also proposed putting a $4.7 billion General Obligation Bond on the November 2021 ballot for the public to vote on. The bond would address infrastructure needs in North Carolina:
- $2.5 billion for public schools to address the more than $8 billion in documented needs
- $783 million for the UNC System, including $295 million for health and safety projects
- $500 million for the community college system
- $430 million for health and safety projects across state government
- $460 million for parks, zoos, museums and historic sites
The proposed budget would inject over $5 billion in direct investment in the state by expanding Medicaid. Cooper also said his budget would provide access to health care for more than 600,000 working North Carolinians, keep rural hospitals open and strong, reduce the number of uninsured veterans and help fight the opioid epidemic.
“We must get health care to more working people and the best way to do that is to expand Medicaid,” Cooper said. “I am ready to work with legislative leadership and members of both political parties here in North Carolina to find a way forward.”
According to the governor’s office, no taxes would be increased to achieve the expansion of health care access, and the American Rescue Plan — passed by the U.S. Congress — provides an additional $1.7 billion in federal funds to support Medicaid expansion without the state covering any cost share for up to six years.
Rep. Ray Pickett (R — Blowing Rock) said he agrees with some parts of Cooper’s budget and disagrees with others. He said he has not had time to really delve into it, but said he would get the full budget when he heads back to Raleigh and looks forward to the process.
Sen. Deanna Ballard (R — Watauga) said she is disappointed the proposed budget “once again prevents more families from sending their child to the school of their choice.”
“He’s eliminating any new funding for the Opportunity Scholarship program which provides working parents the chance to send their child to the school that best fits their educational needs,” Ballard said in a statement. “This program is especially popular among lower-income and non-white communities. Taking away scholarships from low-income children so private education is only available to the wealthy elite is the epitome of hypocrisy.”
Ballard also mentioned that the proposed budget does includes pay increases and bonuses for teachers.
“He conveniently forgot to mention the reason they did not receive a raise in the last budget was because he vetoed it and refused to accept any of the General Assembly’s teacher pay proposals, including a 4.9 percent raise and a $1,000 bonus,” Ballard said. “The Republican-led General Assembly has consistently supported increases to teacher pay, but Gov. Cooper has vetoed nearly every teacher pay raise that has come across his desk.”
Cooper vetoed the last veto because he said it prioritized the wrong things like “corporate tax breaks over classrooms, gimmicks over guaranteed school construction and political ideology over people.”
Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives Tim Moore (R) said in a statement that there are a number of shared priorities in the budget proposal, but “lawmakers will remain vigilant in our responsible financial management of the state and avoid irresponsible decisions that have harmed taxpayers in the past.”
“The General Assembly will maintain budget strategies that made our state attractive to so many newcomers with a powerful economy and state government that serves citizens effectively,” Moore said in a statement. “I look forward to reaching consensus on a state budget that works for all North Carolinians to avoid further vetoes by the governor of valuable funds that taxpayers earned and communities deserve.”
Cooper’s full budget recommendation can be found at www.osbm.nc.gov/budget/governors-budget-recommendations.